Retreat backyarders march for housing

Howard Soetwater leading the march.

Things got heated when members of a backyarder’s association marched to the Retreat housing office and ward 67 councillor Marita Petersen’s office last week.

About 80 people walked from the corner of Prince George Drive and Joe Marks Boulevard to Cradock Road, chanting “We want houses” and “Marita must fall” on Wednesday May 10.

The group is part of the United Homeless People’s Association, an organisation focused on securing housing for backyarders and those who live in informal settlements.

When the group reached Ms Petersen’s office, they demanded to speak to her but the councillor declined to meet with the group, fearing that they would turn violent.

Law enforcement and Metro police were called to the scene to monitor the situation.

The association has for the past five years been in talks with the City of Cape Town, including ward councillors, after they proposed a housing development plan for three locations they identified: these include the open land behind Crestway High School; in Allenby Drive, Retreat; and in Peter Charles Street, Cafda.

Founder and leader of the association, Howard Soetwater said the members wanted answers from council.

“We were promised engagement from the City about the land that could be rezoned for housing but the council has dragged their feet. There was an agreement from councillors and Sub-council 18 to engage with us to facilitate this housing project but there seems to be confusion about which open pieces of land needs to be used,” said Mr Soetwater.

He said the march was an attempt to put pressure on council to fast-track the process.

“Our people are suffering because they are being mistreated by landlords, living in unfavourable conditions and we want houses for these people,” said Mr Soetwater.

Steenberg resident Samantha van der Ross, a member of the association, joined the march to show her support.

“I live in a dwelling and it’s not ideal for my child. We desperately need homes but the City is taking their own time. I want a better future for my daughter,” said Ms Van der Ross.

He added that the members would not hesitate to illegally invade the land if the City continues to delay the matter.

Members of the organisation have previously occupied the land in Allenby Drive and the land behind Crestway High School.

Ms Petersen said the march was illegal. “I have seen how violent and aggressive this group can get when they occupied the land,” said Ms Petersen.

She advises residents to engage with Sub-council 18 with regards to the proposed housing development.

“We are not dragging our feet. In fact it is a matter receiving attention that is on the sub-council’s agenda every week. We are trying to drive the initiative at sub-council and get answers. It is frustrating for us too but we are pushing forward for the development to happen because we know there is a big housing need but there are processes that need to be followed and adhered to,” she said.

Ms Petersen said a screening has been done at the open land behind Crestway High School and an Environmental Impact Assessment will be done.

There are water cables, sand mining rights at the proposed housing site as well as the Cape Flats Aquifer that runs underneath the land.

“We have to look at all these things before anything can be done. The process is slow but we have to adhere to procedure,” said Ms Petersen.